Outside, it's one of those sweet autumn days; it's a day when the warmth of the sun is so velvety and unexpected it seems to have a physical weight. These nights are getting cold - when Em gets back from her best friend's wedding out east, she will have missed the indelible shift from late summer to fall. I've been accumulating layers as I sleep, and the garden has given its last hurrah. The squash plants are sad black-and-green tentacles wound in nets on the ground, the yellow eyes of half-started squash staring dully. The tomatoes are shrugging against their stakes. The corn is raspy, dry and whispering, and the peppers have slumped off their last fruits. Only the cabbage and onions are persisting, and I think I will harvest those today.
It's not a wonder, then, that I find myself a bit akimbo as well. Yesterday was a fabulous trip to Albuquerque - errands, the ABQ Friends of the Library Book Sale, and the wondrous "Perks of Being a Wallflower" - and today is the inevitable letdown of a house empty of human company and full of the household and scholastic obligations that hover ever near.
The book sale was more expensive on my pocketbook than I had reckoned, but I think my students will be thrilled - while writing their analytical essays (examining how imagery and figurative language create meaning and the theme of their choice of Emily Dickinson or Walt Whitman poem), they each added a recommendation to the book list. Though there were no zombie books, I got a TON of quality Native literature / non-fic, mysteries, and drama. I just wish time had not run out so quickly; Lyly was able to come down for the joyous "Perks," but had to jaunt back for work so soon after. It seemed there were so many books, such an infinity of combinations and stories and opportunities, that all had to be ignored, shut up, truncated.
I found myself longing for that Charlie moment in the tunnel - found myself wishing for loud music and ticking lights. Wishing for a moment in which I could "swear we were infinite."
Lest the melancholy dominate the mood, I must say this year is going beautifully. I am all but sure that I will teach again next year, and happily. When my sophomores from last year - a perpetual frustration, if you remember - come up in a steady stream saying how much they miss my class, I find myself assuring them that I will be their teacher next year for their AP Literature class. The resultant cheers and smiles and delighted eyes reassure me. I have many of that crowd in my drama class semester as well, and they are a daily testament that I want to see them graduated, accepted, excelling.
Ah, yes, drama.
We have decided on our plays - yes, playS - and we are performing Pinter's "The Dumb Waiter" and Hellman's "The Children's Hour." Opening night is November 15. Oh, man. My nerves are matched only by my excitement. My assistant directors largely run rehearsals, my stage manager helped reserve the stage and my assistant stage manager is learning how to locate / run our dimmer board (as well as helping largely with the tech). Everyone else, in addition to their (large or small) roles, is taking part in production teams. Our sound group has planned out the cues and planned location of speakers; lighting has figured out the "looks"; costuming has designed everyone's costume; hair and makeup is learning how to do the curls of the 1930s; we have basic designs for all three looks of the set. May I mention that our plays were cast only the Thursday before last? Yes, it'll be tight, but it will also be "tight."
Before this theatre bonanza, we dug up Greek stages back behind the school (shhhh) and performed "Oedipus Rex," watched "Oedipus in America" and wrote reviews, made 1/4"-scale models of Greek plays, and learned the basics of stitching. N.B.D.
AP Literature also swings along nicely. We finished with a rousingly-successful Boot Camp and then began Beowulf. Those two weeks were a little cramped, seeing that I had to purchase my copies (7 for the 14) and then they shared those. But, hey! Who doesn't love the monsters and the gorgeous verse of the Anglo-Saxons? We had beots and scop contests and Stephen King. They also learned the basics of Dialectical Notebooks and analyzed "The Seafarer." I am happy to get to revisit that "hard-bitten mortality" that dominated the culture when my father visits and speaks first-hand about the translation process!
Next, of course, was The Canterbury Tales and all the resultant anthropological bawdiness. First was a day of The Story of English - even though I could not show them the fabulous documentary, we could explore together how Old English trammeled and traveled into Middle English. Normans and churches and Chaucer, oh my!
We're now taking a week off before launching into "The Tempest" - yes, yes, THAT will be interesting from a Native perspective!! - to start the Common App and do non-SW college profiles (while reading a few romances / ballads). Yes, I'll admit to having ulterior motives. I want my AP kidlets to realize that liberal arts colleges are fabulous - most of them have no idea of colleges beyond New Mexico institutions. Again, I don't aim to pressure them, but merely expose them!
Finally, my English 3 kids are kicking it along too. As part of our 2nd unit (1800-1870)'s Essential Question: "What is our place in nature in society?," we're focusing heavily on the debates and election issues. So, since we've wrapped up a rigorous week and a half on poetry analysis, we're now doing a weeklong project where students choose ONE topic and ONE candidate and prepare a 2-5 minute presentation on how their candidate believes that topic should be handled. Should be great! We've already had some swell discussions analyzing the performances / beliefs during the debates.
And as all this goes on, the independent reading improves slowly and steadily. It is hard to keep new books until the end of the day after a good pitch; students are sharing more and more with their neighbors, friends, and with me. It's slow going, but I think we're building the positive culture of reading we set about from the get go. Huzzah!
Ah, yes. Here seems a good place to embed my list of purchases yesterday - in no particular order.
59 books for $83. Not so bad:
On the doula front, things have stagnated but frizzed - like Erdrich's "burst ropes of stars" in "The Glass and the Bowl." I've been doing a lot of thinking about my path after next year, and it's awfully convoluted. One thing I KNOW I want to do is the doula mentorship run by the Birthing Tree Cooperative in Santa Fe. The program is exactly what I'm looking for; perhaps I could check it out some weekend soon and / or begin this summer?
I've also been pursuing the thought of teaching parenting classes, ideally in the high school setting. I have no doubt huge changes and improvements can be made in the elementary and secondary classroom, but I also have no doubt that excellent prenatal care / education could do the most good in terms of closing the achievement gap. Oh, what do I know?
Oh, wait. Diane Ravitch agrees. "Last year, at an Aspen Institute conference, the education historian Diane Ravitch was asked her wish list to improve schools. At the top of her list: universal prenatal care — which, of course, has nothing to do with the classroom. Or so it would seem." (New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/16/opinion/sunday/can-great-teaching-overcome-the-effects-of-poverty.html?_r=0)
As I've voiced again and again, it is difficult to become involved in the birth world in this small, beautifully-close-knit community, but I'm doing my best.
Speaking of prenatal / postpartum care, below is my latest endeavor, approved through the nurse, counselors, and principal a couple of weeks ago. I have yet to have any takers, but I'll keep at it.
New Mom Outreach
From: Source: New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey,
State Department of Education and Department of Health
In 2001, the birth rate (per 1000 teen girls for 15-19 year old Native American girls is
58%, as compared to 66% for teens as a whole in NM.
This birth rate has grown 12% in the last two years.
From Diploma Attainment Among Teen Mothers.
By Kate Perper, M.P.P., Kristen Peterson, B.A., and Jennifer Manlove, Ph.D. January 2010.
From my own experience:
Anecdotally – in my first year of teaching juniors at ZHS – I noticed that roughly 20% of my students were parents. Additionally, every single one of my female students who dropped out was pregnant or a new mom.
From New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition: There was a program, between 1997-1998, called “Future Voices.” It focused on: life skills, prenatal education, counseling, tutoring, home visits, and child care. It was met with positive outcomes.
As a doula as well as a teacher, I am passionate about the achievement of our student parents. So, I would love to be Zuni High School’s New Mom Outreach person. This would be a voluntary, unpaid position! What I would like to do:
· Meet the mom in the prenatal period (ideally, around 8 months gestation). We would talk about how her pregnancy and school are going, and her plans for the birth and postpartum time period. Ideally, it would be after school so I could also meet with whoever will be the primary caregiver for the baby after the student returns to school. I would explain my role and offer any resources for her concerns.
· She would fill out a sheet with her teachers – a sort of anticipation guide – outlining, roughly, what they will be covering in the postpartum time. This would be photocopied. I would keep one copy, and she the other.
· After the birth, I would first meet with her 1-2 weeks postpartum. That gives mother and baby enough time to begin to adjust to life together. I will call and schedule an appointment with the two (at a convenient time and place). We will meet and talk about the birth, breastfeeding, sleep, life, etc. Then, I will go over the homework, explaining any concepts and tutoring her on the work.
· This schedule of meeting, delivering work, and aid with homework, will continue 1-3 times a week until the student mother is ready to return to school.
Well, I really ought to be turning to that grading about now.
Please keep up your good work, whatever it is and in whatever infinite ways it manifests itself.
Over and out ~